Friday, May 25, 2012

Power in Numbers?

The book of Leviticus and the book Numbers occur at very similar times in the Israelite's journey. Leviticus tells the story of God explaining the laws to Moses and Aaron, who then repeat them for the nation. In Numbers, the Torah tells the story of what actually happens during the forty years the Jews spend in the desert. The fourth book begins with God requesting that Moses and Aaron take a census, thus explaining the name Numbers. The Israelites organize themselves into twelve tribes, each named after one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The tribes vary in size, but the total number is 603,550 men ranging from ages 20 to 60 years. God seeks to gather an understanding of the size of Israel before they venture too far into the desert.

The people of the Torah and common members in any modern democracy govern themselves in similar ways. In both systems, the few lead the majority, representing those who put them in power. Just as Moses represents God to the 603,550 male Israelites. their wives, and their children,  Barack Obama symbolizes the United States and the majority of voting citizens who selected him for office. However, many Israelite's opinions mostly likely differed from those of Moses, and many see the Obama Administration as an abomination. Leaders intend to represents those who put them in power, but matters often go askew. Would it not be better if we removed the middle man? How different would society be if the many ruled over the many?

While the support of many people brings about positive change,  true success starts with the solid control of one, firm leader. Such a person propels a movement to its great accomplishments. When committees converse controversial issues, progress stagers in debate. With any group, organization is the first key to success. All achievements begin with a plan, and one individual overseeing this preparation traditionally makes the execution more direct. Throughout history, the greatest protests started with an idea and a thinker. Then, that person spread their thoughts to a larger movement. Martin Luther King, for instance, spurred one of the most driven movements in American history. He embodied his cause, organized his thoughts, formulated a plan, and then called on the support of others.
Power in numbers only comes last on the list of ingredients for change, following decent leadership and  strategic planning. In the cases where few rule over the many, no disconnect exists. They simply gather the thoughts of their subjects, communicating them to God or the world.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sharing the Land, Sharing the World

Leviticus concludes with a double-passage of parashot Behar and Bechukotai. In Behar, God discusses a number of various laws relating to the Israelites and their society in the new, promised land. God deems every fiftieth year as one of jubilee. When the special time arrives,  God requires all owners to free their slaves. God allows the Israelites to make their neighbors indentured servants if needed until the year of the jubilee.  In this system, neighbors lift each other out of the crippling poverty.  The passage also discusses how to go about selling and redeeming land for the different types of citizens in Israel. Parashat Bechukotai  begins with God boasting about all the blessings one reaps by following the Torah's commandments. God offers a surplus of food, everlasting protection, and a fulfilling life. Then, God explains in much more detail the punishments for heretics.  According to the Torah, punishment includes a sevenfold curse from God, such as a rampage of wild beasts and an outbreak of pestilence. To close the book of laws, God reveals the oppositions of accepting or denying these commandments to the Israelites.

While discussing land owning lands, God sternly proclaims, "But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me" (Lev. 25:23).  God essentially restricts the Israelites from over-farming the land or overstepping their right to change the terrain. Jewish tradition teaches that each individual owns their body, but they return this body to the world at the end of their life. Likewise, the land provided to a homeowner never truly belongs to him or her. When granted fifty acres of wheat field, one needs to care for the land more carefully than as if it were their own. God commands that each farmer abstain from reaping their crops every seventh year to allow the fields to rest. To offset hunger during this rest, God promises a sufficient crop in the sixth year. The Torah proclaims that God only allows people to borrow the world, and we must therefore care for it like another child.

The Torah only refers to land as belonging to a higher power, but other items perhaps equally belong to a higher power such as God. Even though we claim our properties, we own nothing in the entire universe. Our own bodies decompose into the Earth after our time on the planet. (In Lenin's case, his body now belongs to the people of Russia.) We rather collectively own the universe for a period of time, and then we pass it onto the next generation until life as we know it reaches its climax. Instead of thinking of a world in terms of dollars and cents, people should ponder how their actions benefit society as whole. Throughout the twentieth century, the European nations and the United States competed against one each other to achieve industrial superiority. Although Europeans starved due to a lack of food, farmers in the Midwest dumped pounds upon pounds of produce to avoid high shipping costs. The result of this isolationism caused two world wars and a series of smaller wars that supposedly avoided one on a larger scale known as the Cold War. Rather than a Communist upheaval of society, I suggest we invest in working as a universal society. Like the Torah says, we should work in the image of God, respecting the land granted to us and the benefits it reaps. Why should a family of four own three laptops if a family of five only knows the Internet as "Western concept"? By balancing how we use our fields, we level societal gains with others' losses. Remain mindful of others, and treat the whole world as if nothing exists solely for yourself.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Reform Judaism's View on Homosexuality

As we finish this year's reading of Leviticus, God shares many commandments with Moses and Aaron in this week's parashat. Aaron's sons anger God by entering the Tabernacle's holy shrine without permission, so God starts by laying the guidelines for Aaron entering this place. In this sacred spot, God appears in the literal shape of a cloud. God commands Aaron to only enter the presence of God with permission and sin and burnt offerings. Following these rules, God shows Aaron how to atone for himself and the entire community on his behalf. God reveals the details of the holiday now called Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.  According to the Torah, the Israelite community apologizes for their transgressions by sending sacrifices to their priest. Once the priest sends these offerings, God pardons all who participated. Today, we immerse ourselves in prayer to receive positive judgement from.  The next set of laws restricts Egyptian practices the Israelites witnessed during their time as slaves. Some of the rituals include the prohibition of incest and the controversial ban against homosexuality. The combined parashot of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim concludes with a series of various, many of which appear earlier in the Torah. God reviews how to sow crops, and this section ends with the mentioning of a few of the Ten Commandments received on Mount Sinai.

To many, the restriction against same-sex relationships seemed harsh and unappealing to include in the Reform Movement's practice. In the sector's early stages, rabbis discussed how to interpret the Torah in a way that included gays and lesbians to join their congregations. The rabbis understood the commandments' purpose as a way to avoid resembling the ancient Egyptians. During Biblical Times, ancient Egyptian priests made love to one another to show their affection to idols.  The Reform Movement viewed the commandment as a way to avoid polytheism, but they denied the overall immorality of homosexuality. Reform Jews accept an individual of any sexual preference to join them in prayer and celebrate the holidays.  In fact, many synagogues encourage the places of worship to establish a safe environment for people of varying sexual orientation. A number of gay and lesbian rabbis in the Reform Movement lead vibrant congregations, and their temple members view their leader based on the quality of their job performance, not who they love.  Reform Jews see love as a universal entity, and they recognize that sometimes love involves a man and a woman, two women, or two men. Psychologists agree that sexual orientation comes at birth, and gays and lesbians have very little choice in the matter. Therefore, Reform Jews find it pointless to exile someone whose preference is inadvertent . While the Conservative and Orthodox movements remain hesitant about the LGBTQ community joining them, the Reform Movement welcomes them with open-mindedness and most likely a smile.

Last year, I wrote "A Modern Debate From Biblical Times" where I discussed a few strategies to combat the thought of homosexuality as an abomination.  Upon starting my freshman year, I joined my school's Gay Straight Alliance. I suggest all schools embark on creating the same club in their establishment. Every Monday, we discuss issues facing the LGBTQ world, brainstorm ways to make our school a safer environment for out of the closet gays and lesbians, or just hang out, providing an accepting safe haven for already out of the closet students this year. Since our founding, a number of students felt safe enough to come out of the closet before us. We embraced the courage, and one time even bought a cake to celebrate the effort it took for them to reveal their true identity. A few of my personal friends told me about their sexual orientation this year, and I treated them the same as before. Some of my friends even began exploring relationships of the same sex. Just as with friends in a straight relationship, I teased them to no end, but I in no means judged them for their union. If I thought anything, I judged them positively for finding each other. With the organization of another temple youth group, my synagogue hosted an event for Keshet, a Jewish organization for LGBTQ rights. We participated in a seminar that explored elements of further acceptance in this realm. The instructor split us into groups, each needing to list common attributes of men and women in a box. Outside the square, the instructor told us to write statements about what happens to someone who steps outside this stereotypical box. Then, we regrouped to discuss how to prevent some of the negative side effects of stepping outside the box. During the second half of the seminar, we discussed what each letter in the LGBTQ acronym meant, finding way to create safe communities for each of these sectors. Finally, I vowed to remain silent during the school day a few weeks ago. During the Day of Silence, one receives a t-shirt, and they keep quiet for all six hours of the school day. The exercise symbolizes the intimidation gays and lesbians feel before they come out of the closet, and it strives to promote empathy for students who fail to realize how these afraid people suffer.  I learned how people respond to someone who makes their differences publicly. When people prodded me to talk, I released gays receive similar or even harsher methods of intimidation.  We pleasantly witnessed New York, Washington, California, Maryland, and New Jersey join or increase hopes of joining the list of states with legal same-sex marriage this year. In the future, I strive to see a world where many more people see homosexuality as a minor personality trait rather than an abomination.